Seyfarth Synopsis: The New Jersey Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 121 affecting claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, which if signed into law, would render any prospective waiver of rights against public policy, including pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements. In addition, non-disclosure provisions in settlement agreements involving these claims would be unenforceable against employees.
Throughout 2018, Seyfarth Shaw’s dedicated Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Competes Practice Group hosted a series of CLE webinars that addressed significant issues facing clients today in this important and ever-changing area of law. The series consisted of seven webinars:
- 2017 National Year in Review: What You Need to Know About the Recent Cases/Developments in Trade Secrets, Non-Compete and Computer Fraud Law
- Protecting Confidential Information and Client Relationships in the Financial Services Industry
- The Anatomy of a Trade Secret Audit
- Protecting Trade Secrets from Cyber and Other Threats
- 2018 Massachusetts Non-Compete and Trade Secrets Reform
- Protecting Trade Secrets Abroad and Enforcing Rights Abroad and in the U.S.
- Criminal Trade Secret Theft: What You Need to Know
As a conclusion to this well-received 2018 webinar series, we compiled a list of key takeaway points for each program, which are listed below. For those clients who missed any of the programs in this year’s series, recordings of the webinars are available on the blog, or you may click on the title of each available webinar below for the online recording. Seyfarth Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Compete attorneys are happy to discuss presenting similar presentations to your company for CLE credit. Seyfarth will continue its trade secrets webinar programming in 2019, and we will release the 2019 trade secrets webinar series topics in the coming weeks. Continue Reading 2018 Trade Secrets and Non-Competes Webinar Series Year in Review
- Have trade secret protections. Built into the definition of a trade secret is the requirement to have reasonable secrecy measures. Companies that do not use non-disclosure agreements with their employees can be at a tremendous disadvantage if they decide to litigate against former employees for trade secret misappropriation. Well thought out policies, procedures, and agreements are a must to have defensible trade secret protections.
- Be careful who you hire and what baggage they may come with. Sometimes what appears too good to be true is in fact the case. Employers should take particular care when hiring high-level employees or sales employees from direct competitors. They should carefully review any restrictive covenants that the candidate has before extending an offer and ensure that the prospective employee does not bring data from their previous employer.
- Don’t be a company that has a “Do what I say not what I do approach.” Many company sabotage their own trade secret protections by requiring lower level and mid-level employees to follow policies, procedures, and agreements but then upper management, including executives, fail to abide by the same policies, procedures, and agreements—this can lead to a confused and disgruntled workforce. A culture of confidentiality, which is a staple of companies that adequately protect trade secrets, starts at the top.
- Protect your company trade secrets along the supply chain. In today’s global and mobile economy, companies often hire contractors, consultants, or third parties to assist with products or services. Those same third parties are often provided access to the company’s trade secrets as part of their role in the supply chain. Companies need to ensure that they have had adequate agreements and cybersecurity protections in place with those third parties to ensure that trade secrets are not compromised.
- Have coherent computer policies and enforce those policies. Companies conduct business via email and through the transfer and sharing of electronic files. Those files may contain trade secrets and can be easily transferred to a variety of storage devices and accounts, including computers, electronic devices, and the cloud. Companies should provide clear instructions to employees concerning acceptable use, storage, and transfer of company files and should enforce those policies. Some companies use software solutions to monitor compliance and prevent data extraction. Many trade secret cases involve the illicit transfer of company files to personal devices or accounts.
While these tips provide a good overview, it is highly recommended that you consult a Seyfarth attorney familiar with counseling or litigating trade secret matters to develop a robust plan to protect your company’s trade secrets and intellectual property.
On Wednesday, November 28, 2018, at 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern, Seyfarth Partner and Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Compete Practice Group Co-Chair Robert Milligan is presenting a Strafford live webinar. The “Drafting Enforceable Non-compete and Non-Solicitation Agreements: Compliance with New State Statutes and Case Law” webinar panel will discuss recent legislative and case law trends regarding non-compete and non-solicitation agreements, offer best practices for structuring permissible contracts, and explain how to determine whether existing agreements are lawful.
The webinar will focus on the following topics:
- What are the recent legislative changes affecting restrictive covenants?
- What are the recent case law decisions affecting non-compete and non-solicitation agreements?
- How can employers structure restrictive covenants to comply with new laws and decisions?
- How can employment counsel analyze existing agreements for compliance?
For more information and to register for the webinar, click here.
In Seyfarth’s sixth installment in its 2018 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Daniel Hart, Marjorie Culver, Alex Meier, and Paul Yovanic Jr. focused on how to identify the greatest threats to trade secrets, tips and best practices for protecting trade secrets abroad, and enforcement mechanisms and remedies.
As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled a summary of takeaways:
- You don’t want to be in a position where you’re relying exclusively on trade secrets law to protect proprietary information. When possible, execute a confidentiality agreement. This will not only protect a wider range of information, but also often helps with securing pre-discovery injunctive relief.
- In order to adequately protect trade secrets abroad, companies should inform employees of the important nature of secret information, take steps to secure secret information and limit access only to necessary employees, and avoid liability without culpability by revising employment agreements and informing new hires of the prohibited conduct.
- Restrictive covenants abroad are easier to enforce when agreements are narrowly tailored for duration, geographic scope, and nature and when penalties are reasonable.
- For international misappropriation, consider whether you want to pursue relief in the foreign jurisdiction or in the United States. The Defend Trade Secrets Act and, in some instances, Section 337 actions before the International Trade Commission rules offer powerful alternatives to proceedings in other jurisdictions.
As a special feature of our blog—guest postings by experts, clients, and other professionals—please enjoy this blog entry from Donal O’Connell, Managing Director of Chawton Innovation Services Ltd.
Managing trade secrets belonging to Third Parties:
At first glance, you may be somewhat perplexed by the title. When and why should a company be concerned about managing trade secrets belonging to some 3rd party? It is tough enough for most companies to properly and professionally manage their own trade secrets, not to mind worrying about the trade secrets belonging to others. However, more and more, companies are indeed facing the challenge of having to manage trade secrets belonging to others. Allow me to explain. Continue Reading The Sharing of Trade Secrets with Others
The Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, issued an opinion in Tejas Vending, LP, et al. v. Tejas Promotions, LLC further delineating the applicability of Texas’s anti-SLAPP statute, the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”). The Court emphasized that the TCPA was applicable to a conspiracy to misappropriate trade secrets claim, but found that it did not apply to requests for declaratory relief. This holding serves as a reminder that anti-SLAPP statutes can be a powerful shield in misappropriation of trade secret cases, particularly when such cases involve claims for an alleged conspiracy. Continue Reading The Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District Holds that the Texas Anti-SLAPP Statute Applies to a Conspiracy to Misappropriate Trade Secrets Claim
Earlier this month, the Texarkana Court of Appeals took the extraordinary measure of affirming an award of plaintiff attorney’s fees against a defendant for willful and malicious misappropriation of trade secrets in an amount that was ultimately more than 50 times higher than the plaintiff’s actual awarded damages.
Samuel D. Orbison worked for an oil and gas company, Ma-Tex Rope Company, Inc., for five years and signed an employment agreement containing a non-competition agreement, a non-disclosure agreement, and a non-solicitation agreement. During his tenure with Ma-Tex, Orbison became the coordinator of Ma-Tex’s recertification department until he resigned and began working for its competitor, American Pipe Inspections, Inc. (API), in the same position he had filled with Ma-Tex. When Ma-Tex learned that Orbison had begun soliciting recertification work from Ma-Tex’s customers, it sued Orbison and API for, among other claims, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. Continue Reading In Trade Secret Misappropriation Case, Texas Court of Appeals Affirms Attorney’s Fees Award Approaching $220,000 where Actual Damages Were $4,000
Tervis Tumbler Company, the maker of the infamous insulated tumblers, has found itself in hot water with a former supplier, Trinity Graphic. Trinity filed suit in the Middle District of Florida against Tervis and its new supplier, Southern Graphics, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets under both the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) and Florida trade secret statute along with breach of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement, fraud, aiding and abetting, and civil conspiracy. Trinity seeks compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages, disgorgement of profits related to the misappropriation and attorney’s fees and costs.
In support of its claims, Trinity alleges that it “revolutionized” the creation of tumbler inserts with the development of its “Trinity Wrap.” Trinity further alleges that before it created the Trinity Wrap at Tervis’ request, Tervis was limited to the use of “crude and costly embroidery or flat one-sided images.” In creating the Trinity Wrap, Trinity purports to have developed two trade secrets: a printing method that reduces static electricity during the printing process, resulting in increased visual sharpness and a second printing method using a state of the art printer to perfectly align images printed on both sides of a transparent medium. Continue Reading Popular Insulated Cup Manufacturer in Hot Water over Alleged Trade Secret Misappropriation
Continuing our annual tradition, we present the top developments/headlines for 2016 in trade secret, computer fraud, and non-compete law. Please join us for our first webinar of the New Year on February 2, 2017, at 12:00 p.m. Central, where we will discuss these new developments, their potential implications, and our predictions for 2017.
1. Defend Trade Secrets Act
One of the most significant developments of 2016 that will likely have a profound impact on trade secret cases in the coming years was the enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”). The DTSA creates a new federal cause of action for trade secret misappropriation, albeit it does not render state law causes of action irrelevant or unimportant. The DTSA was passed after several years and many failed attempts. The bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support, as well as backing from the business community.
The DTSA now allows trade secret owners to sue in federal court for trade secret misappropriation, and seek remedies previously unavailable. Employers should be aware that the DTSA contains a whistleblower immunity provision, which protects individuals from criminal or civil liability for disclosing a trade secret if such disclosure is made in confidence to a government official or attorney, indirectly or directly. The provision applies to those reporting violations of law or who file lawsuits alleging employer retaliation for reporting a suspected violation of law, subject to certain specifications (i.e., trade secret information to be used in a retaliation case must be filed under seal). This is significant for employers because it places an affirmative duty on them to give employees notice of this provision in “any contract or agreement with an employee that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information.” Employers who do not comply with this requirement forfeit the ability to recoup exemplary damages or attorneys’ fees under the DTSA in an action against an employee to whom no notice was ever provided.
At least one federal district court has rejected an employee’s attempts to assert whistleblower immunity under the DTSA. In Unum Group v. Loftus, No. 4:16-CV-40154-TSH, 2016 WL 7115967 (D. Mass. Dec. 6, 2016), the federal district court for the district of Massachusetts denied a defendant employee’s motion to dismiss and held that a defendant must present evidence to justify the whistleblower immunity.
We anticipate cases asserting claims under the DTSA will be a hot trend and closely followed in 2017. For further information about the DTSA, please see our webinar “New Year, New Progress: 2016 Update on Defend Trade Secrets Act & EU Directive.”
2. EU Trade Secrets Directive
On May 27, 2016, the European Council unanimously approved its Trade Secrets Directive, which marks a sea-change in protection of trade secrets throughout the European Union (“EU”). Each of the EU’s 28 member states will have a period of 24 months to enact national laws that provide at least the minimum levels of protections afforded to trade secrets by the directive. Similar to the DTSA, the purpose of the EU’s Trade Secrets Directive was to provide greater consistency in trade secrets protection throughout the EU. For further information about the EU’s Trade Secrets Directive, please see our webinar “New Year, New Progress: 2016 Update on Defend Trade Secrets Act & EU Directive.”
3. Government Agencies Continue to Scrutinize the Scope of Non-Disclosure and Restrictive Covenant Agreements
Fresh off of signing the DTSA, the Obama White House released a report entitled “Non-Compete Reform: A Policymaker’s Guide to State Policies,” which relied heavily on Seyfarth Shaw’s “50 State Desktop Reference: What Employers Need to Know About Non-Compete and Trade Secrets Law” and contained information on state policies related to the enforcement of non-compete agreements. Additionally, the White House issued a “Call to Action” that encouraged state legislators to adopt policies to reduce the misuse of non-compete agreements and recommended certain reforms to state law books. The Non-Compete Reform report analyzed the various states that have enacted statutes governing the enforcement of non-compete agreements and the ways in which those statutes address aspects of non-compete enforceability, including durational limitations; occupation-specific exemptions; wage thresholds; “garden leave;” enforcement doctrines; and prior notice requirements.
With those issues in mind, the Call to Action encourages state policymakers to pursue three “best-practice policy objectives”: (1) ban non-competes for categories of workers, including workers under a certain wage threshold; workers in occupations that promote public health and safety; workers who are unlikely to possess trade secrets; or workers who may suffer adverse impacts from non-competes, such as workers terminated without cause; (2) improve transparency and fairness of non-competes by, for example, disallowing non-competes unless they are proposed before a job offer or significant promotion has been accepted; providing consideration over and above continued employment; or encouraging employers to better inform workers about the law in their state and the existence of non-competes in contracts and how they work; and (3) incentivize employers to write enforceable contracts and encourage the elimination of unenforceable provisions by, for example, promotion of the use of the “red pencil doctrine,” which renders contracts with unenforceable provisions void in their entirety.
While some large employers have embraced the Call to Action, even reform-minded employers are likely to be wary of some of these proposals. Moreover, this initiative may die or be limited with the new Trump administration.
On October 20, 2016, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) jointly issued their “Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals.” The Guidance explains how antitrust law applies to employee hiring and compensation practices. The agencies also issued a “quick reference card” that lists a number of “antitrust red flags for employment practices.” In a nutshell, agreements (whether formal or informal) among employers to limit or fix the compensation paid to employees or to refrain from soliciting or hiring each other’s employees are per se violations of the antitrust laws. Also, even if competitors don’t explicitly agree to limit or suppress compensation, the mere exchange of compensation information among employers may violate the antitrust laws if it has the effect of suppressing compensation.
In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has issued numerous decisions in which workplace rules were found to unlawfully restrict employees’ Section 7 rights. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied Quicken Loans, Inc.’s petition for review of an NLRB decision finding that confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions in the company’s Mortgage Banker Employment Agreement unreasonably burdened employees’ rights under Section 7 of the NLRA.
4. New State Legislation Regarding Restrictive Covenants
Oregon has limited the duration of employee non-competes to two years effective January 1, 2016. Utah has enacted the Post-Employment Restrictions Amendments, which limits restrictive covenants to a one-year time period from termination. Any restrictive covenant that is entered into on or after May 10, 2016, for more than one year will be void. Notably, Utah’s new law does not provide for a court to blue pencil an agreement (i.e., revise/modify to the extent it becomes enforceable), rather the agreement as a whole will be deemed void if it is determined to be unreasonable.
In what appears to have become an annual tradition, Massachusetts legislators have attempted to pass legislation regarding non-competes, to no avail. Two other states in New England, however, are able to claim accomplishments in that regard. Specifically, Connecticut and Rhode Island each enacted statutes last summer imposing significant restrictions on the use of non-compete provisions in any agreement that establishes employment or any other form of professional relationship with physicians. While Connecticut’s law limits only the duration and geographic scope of physician non-competes, Rhode Island completely banned such provisions in almost all agreements entered into with physicians.
5. Noteworthy Trade Secret, Computer Fraud, and Non-Compete Cases
In Golden Road Motor Inn, Inc. v. Islam, 132 Nev. Adv. Op. 49 (2016), the Supreme Court of Nevada refused to adopt the “blue pencil” doctrine when it ruled that an unreasonable provision in a non-compete agreement rendered the entire agreement unenforceable. Accordingly, this means that employers conducting business in Nevada should ensure that non-compete agreements with their employees are reasonably necessary to protect the employers’ interests. Specifically, the scope of activities prohibited, the time limits, and geographic limitations contained in the non-compete agreements should all be reasonable. If an agreement contains even one overbroad or unreasonable provision, the employer risks having the entire agreement invalidated and being left without any recourse against an employee who violates the agreement.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal affirmed a $600,000 judgment, plus attorneys’ fees and costs, against an ex-employee who violated his non-compete when he assisted his son’s start-up company compete with the ex-employee’s former employer. See Pattridge v. Starks, No. 50,351-CA (Louisiana Court of Appeal, Feb. 24, 2016) (Endurall III).
A Massachusetts Superior Court judge struck down a skin care salon’s attempt to make its non-compete agreement seem prettier than it actually was. In denying the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the court stressed that employees’ conventional job knowledge and skills, without more, would not constitute a legitimate business interest worth safeguarding. See Elizabeth Grady Face First, Inc. v. Garabedian et al., No. 16-799-D (Mass. Super. Ct. March 25, 2016).
In a case involving alleged violations of the Kansas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“KUTSA”) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), a Kansas federal district court granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that (a) payments to forensic experts did not satisfy the KUTSA requirement of showing an “actual loss caused by misappropriation” (K.S.A. 60-3322(a)), and (b) defendant was authorized to access the company’s shared files and, therefore, he did not violate the CFAA. See Tank Connection, LLC v. Haight, No. 6:13-cv-01392-JTM (D. Kan., Feb. 5, 2016) (Marten, C.J.).
The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the employee’s restrictive covenants were unenforceable when the employer had not provided the employee with any confidential information or specialized training. See Davis v. Johnstone Group, Inc., No. W2015-01884-COA-R3-CV (Mar. 9, 2016).
Reversing a 2-1 decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the state’s Supreme Court held unanimously that an assets purchase-and-sale contract containing an unreasonable territorial non-competition restriction is unenforceable Further, a court in that state must strike, and may not modify, the unreasonable provision. See Beverage Systems of the Carolinas, LLC v. Associated Beverage Repair, LLC, No. 316A14 (N.C. Sup. Court, Mar. 18, 2016).
The Ohio Court of Appeal upheld a non-compete giving the former employer discretion to determine whether an ex-employee was working for a competitor. See Saunier v. Stark Truss Co., Case No. 2015CA00202 (Ohio App., May 23, 2016).
In a clash between two major oil companies, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on May 20, 2016, that the recently enacted Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUTSA”) allows the trial court discretion to exclude a company representative from portions of a temporary injunction hearing involving trade secret information. The Court further held a party has no absolute constitutional due-process right to have a designated representative present at the hearing.
A Texas Court of Appeals held on August 22, 2016, that a former employer was entitled to $2.8 million in attorneys’ fees against a former employee who used the employer’s information to compete against it. The Court reached this ruling despite the fact that the jury found no evidence that the employer sustained any damages or that the employee misappropriated trade secrets.
In Fidlar Technologies v. LPS Real Estate Data Solutions, Inc., Case No. 4:13-CV-4021 (7th Cir., Jan. 21, 2016), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s conclusion that a plaintiff had produced no evidence refuting the defendant’s contention that it honestly believed it was engaging in lawful business practices rather than intentionally deceiving or defrauding the plaintiff. Even though the plaintiff’s technology did not expressly permit third parties to access the digitized records and use the information without printing copies, thereby avoiding payment of fees to plaintiff, such access and use were not prohibited.
A divided Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the conviction of a former employee under the CFAA, holding that “[u]nequivocal revocation of computer access closes both the front door and the back door” to protected computers, and that using a password shared by an authorized system user to circumvent the revocation of the former employee’s access is a crime. See United States v. Nosal, (“Nosal II”) Nos. 14-10037, 14-10275 (9th Cir. July 5, 2016).
The Ninth Circuit in Facebook v. Power Ventures, Case No. 13-17154 (9th Cir. Jul. 12, 2016), held that defendant Power Ventures did not violate the CFAA when it made copies and extracted data from the social media website despite receiving a cease and desist letter. The court noted that Power’s users “arguably gave Power permission to use Facebook’s computers to disseminate messages” (further stating that “Power reasonably could have thought that consent from Facebook users to share the [Power promotion] was permission for Power to access Facebook’s computers”) (emphasis in original). Importantly, the court found that “[b]ecause Power had at least arguable permission to access Facebook’s computers, it did not initially access Facebook’s computers ‘without authorization’ within the meaning of the CFAA.”
6. Forum Selection Clauses
California enacted a new law (Labor Code § 925) that restrains the ability of employers to require employees to litigate or arbitrate employment disputes (1) outside of California or (2) under the laws of another state. The only exception is where the employee was individually represented by a lawyer in negotiating an employment contract. For companies with headquarters outside of California and employees who work and reside in California, this assault on the freedom of contract is not welcome news.
We also continued to see federal district courts enforcing forum selection clauses in restrictive covenant agreements. For example, a Massachusetts federal district court last fall transferred an employee’s declaratory judgment action to the Eastern District of Michigan pursuant to a forum-selection clause in a non-compete agreement over the employee’s argument that he had signed the agreement under duress because he was not told he would need to sign it until he had already spent the money and traveled all the way from India to the United States.
7. Security Breaches and Data Theft Remain Prevalent
2016 was a record year for data and information security breaches, one of the most notably being WikiLeaks’ release of emails purportedly taken from the Democratic National Committee’s email server. According to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center, U.S. companies and government agencies saw a 40% increase in data breaches from 2015 and suffered over a thousand data breaches. Social engineering has become the number one cause of data breaches, leaks, and information theft. Organizations should alert and train employees on following policy, spotting potential social engineering attacks, and having a clear method to escalate potential security risks. Employee awareness, coupled with technological changes towards better security will reduce risk and exposure to liability. For technical considerations and best practices and policies of attorneys when in the possession of client data, please view our webinar, “A Big Target—Cybersecurity for Attorneys and Law Firms.”
8. The ITC’s Extraterritorial Authority in Trade Secret Disputes
In a case involving the misappropriation of U.S. trade secrets in China, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Section 337 of the Tariff Act does, in fact, authorize the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) to investigate misappropriation that occurred entirely outside the United States. See Sino Legend (Zhangjiangang) Chemical Co. Ltd. v. ITC. The crux of Sino Legend’s argument was that for a statute to apply abroad, there must be express congressional intent. Not surprisingly, Sino Legend argued that such intent was missing from Section 337 of the Tariff Act. In Tianrui Group Co. Ltd. v. ITC, 661 F.3d 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2011), the Federal Circuit held that such intent was manifest in the express inclusion of “the importation of articles … into the United States” which evidenced that Congress had more than domestic concerns in mind. On January 9, 2017, the Supreme Court denied Sino Legend’s petition for certiorari, thereby keeping the ITC’s doors open to trade secret holders seeking to remedy misappropriation occurring abroad. For valuable insight on protecting trade secrets and confidential information in China and other Asian countries, including the effective use of non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, please check out our recent webinar titled, “Trade Secret and Non-Compete Considerations in Asia.”
We thank everyone who followed us this year and we really appreciate all of your support. We will continue to provide up-to-the-minute information on the latest legal trends and cases in the U.S. and across the world, as well as important thought leadership and resource links and materials.